Once infamous as a place of exile and no-return during the Tsarist and then Stalinist eras, Siberia is being touted as a beacon of light by the Russian government as it looks east, rather than west, for growth potential.
Mineral and metal-rich Siberia is already home to oil, diamonds, gas and coal producers and in April 2013, Russia announced a billion-dollar investment in the region. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev ordered the government to devise a "Far East Development Program" totaling $16 billion to develop Siberia and its environs by 2018, saying it was a top priority for Russia.
"There will be payback for money invested into the region," Medvedev said during a trip to the region in April, forecasting trillions of roubles would flow back into the Russian economy.
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The Russian government will focus on boosting the capacity of the Trans-Siberian railroad, the development of regional aviation, airport and seaport infrastructure and the building of highways as well as developing the already-established energy sector, according to a report by state news agency Ria Novosti in April.
Although the government has not explicitly linked its plans to invest in the region to high growth in China, Russian energy companies developing pipelines to China have already benefited from the program's potential. In March, China's state energy group CNPC signed a number of billion-dollar deals with Russian oil and gas giants Rosneft and Gazprom on the back of plans to develop pipelines and transport networks to transport resources from Siberia to China.
Artem Volynets, chief executive of En+ Group, a diversified mining, metals and energy group controlled by Oleg Deripaska told CNBC that Siberia's proximity to growing Asian markets was central to Russia's investment in the area.
"Eastern Siberia region is located in great proximity to China and Asia where the center of economic activity is shifting to. If you look at the map - it takes only two hours to go by plane from Irkutsk, the center of Eastern Siberia, to Beijing," he told CNBC.
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"The proximity to Asia and wealth of resource of Eastern Siberia enables Russia to capitalize on Asian countries' growing demand and to drive the region's economic growth," he added.
At present, China imports core mineral resources from Australia, Brazil and South Africa. But Siberian mineral resources are located in closer proximity, Volynets noted. Cargo transportation from Brazil to Shanghai by sea takes as long as 35 days, from South Africa it takes 20 days and from Australia it takes around 14 days – while from the Vanino Seaport in Siberia it takes only 4 days.